OTTAWA, Ontario, January 5, 2011 ( – As a landmark court case seeks to overturn Canada’s laws against euthanasia and assisted suicide, a new poll is showing that 67% of Canadians support the practice.

Both sides of the issue have downplayed the poll, with euthanasia advocates claiming public support is of little consequence because the so-called right to die is a question of “basic human rights,” while euthanasia opponents emphasize that other polling has demonstrated public support for assisted suicide is widespread but shallow.

The Forum Research poll, conducted on Dec. 13th, found that 67% support legalizing physician-assisted suicide, while 21% oppose it, and 12% are undecided.

Support was strongest in Quebec at 81%, and lowest in the Prairies and Ontario at 60%.  It also showed a markedly lower level of support among those aged 65 and over, with only 56% of them supporting it, compared to 69% of 55-64 year-olds and 71% of 45-54 year-olds.

Lorne Bozinoff, president of Forum Research, says the poll indicates that Canadian public opinion is “largely beginning to shift towards legalizing physician-assisted suicide and the models put in place in countries such as Switzerland.”

But Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, argues that more in-depth polling has made it clear that Canadians are not clamoring for legislative change.

He highlighted a 2010 Environics poll commissioned by the national pro-life group LifeCanada, which found that only 21% of Canadians “strongly” support the legalization of euthanasia, while 36% only “somewhat” support it.

Meanwhile, 66% said they wanted the government to place a greater priority on improving palliative care.  Seventy-four percent were concerned that people with disabilities, the sick, or the elderly would be euthanized without their consent, as has happened in other countries.  And 76% were concerned that elderly persons facing abuse would be pressured into euthanasia.

“The question is not, do Canadians want to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide,” said Schadenberg.  “The question is, what do Canadians actually want?”

“What they really want is better care.  They don’t want to die suffering,” he added.

Russell Ogden of the Farewell Foundation, a B.C.-based euthanasia advocacy group that helps its members end their own lives, told the National Post that Canada should move to legalize assisted suicide whether or not it is supported by the public.  “We maintain it’s a basic human right,” said Ogden.

“Twenty years ago Sue Rodriguez asked ‘Who owns my life?’ And most Canadians would answer that question with ‘I do,’ ” he continued. “It’s as simple as that.”

Nearly twenty years after the Rodriguez case, in which the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 against the ALS sufferer’s demand for assisted suicide, activists and pundits expect the high court will again consider the issue in the near future.  The B.C. Supreme Court just finished hearing the case of Gloria Taylor, another ALS patient demanding the right to die, and the case may end up at the nation’s high court.

Schadenberg insists the push for euthanasia and assisted suicide is not about human rights.  “It’s about whether or not a doctor should have the right to cause a death by lethal injection, or to be directly involved in that,” he said.

“When did it become a human rights issue to give someone the right to lethally inject me?” he asked.

Forum Research polled 1,160 Canadians aged 18 or over by telephone on Dec. 13th as part of a national omnibus survey.  The margin of error was 2.9%, 19 times out of 20.